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Margaret MacArthur article

27 Dec 01 - 06:41 PM (#617299)
Subject: Margaret MacArthur article
From: GUEST,Nancy-Jean

In the January issue of Smithsonian Magazine, on pages 99-101, is a story you should not miss. It's about Margaret MacArthur and her harp.

27 Dec 01 - 08:47 PM (#617373)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Sorcha

Wow! Fascinating. Thank you so much. Here is a link to the article Click me!

28 Dec 01 - 12:21 AM (#617465)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Art Thieme

Nobody is more deserving. Just great!


28 Dec 01 - 12:14 PM (#617633)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: GUEST,bflat

An enchanting story....thanks for the link, Sorcha and the thread, Nancy-Jean. I've loved her music.


28 Dec 01 - 12:55 PM (#617651)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: KathWestra

Thanks for posting this, Nancy-Jean. I came home late on the 26th and found the magazine waiting -- called Margaret immediately to say how much I liked it. Turns out it was written by a NYC schoolteacher (and graduate student) who met Margaret earlier this year (May) during one of Margaret's residencies at her school and was entranced by her music. According to Margaret, the author's professor (for whom she had originally written a much longer piece) encouraged her to submit a shorter version to the Smithsonian magazine, which accepted it for publication. Neat story to accompany the story, I think. And no one more deserving of the good press than Margaret is!

28 Dec 01 - 12:57 PM (#617654)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: KathWestra

P.S. Margaret said she knew nothing of the Smithsonian piece until a photographer called to ask her if they could come up to her farm in Marlboro to take some photos for the story that was going to run.

28 Dec 01 - 01:08 PM (#617660)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: catspaw49

That really makes it sorta' extra neat doesn't it Kath?

Fine article, fine musician, fine person.....and Sorch, thanks for the link.


28 Dec 01 - 01:14 PM (#617666)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: RoyH (Burl)

Hello Kathy Westra, It has been many years since I last spent time with Margaret, her husband and family. I still have albums of her singing I bought at that time. Please pass on to her my very best wishes. Burl

28 Dec 01 - 01:18 PM (#617669)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: kendall

Sometimes things work out just perfectly. Margaret is a wonderful warm soul, and an outstanding musician. It must run in the family, as her children have proven. John is not just a professor and carpenter, he also is quite an authority on birds.

28 Dec 01 - 02:25 PM (#617696)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: GUEST,Songster Bob

It so happens that a couple of months ago, one of those original "MacArthur Harps*" came up on Ebay, so I bought it. It needs some repair, but Bill D. and I have looked it over and think we can accomplish it. The back crack will be fairly simple to fix, since the back can be removed easily (it's sort of loose already), but the top has those zither-pin holes, you know? Hard to align a replacement with those holes, so it looks like we'll have to splice some wood into the open crack in the top.

As Bill says, the hard part about these instruments is obtaining the proper strings. Like an autoharp, you want the wound strings to match the length of the harp, so that the part that goes over the bridges is bare wire, not winding. The short length of some of these strings is such that autoharp strings won't fit.

* Once Margaret got her harp fixed up and started playing it, instrument makers began to make reproductions, and they're usually called "MacArthur Harps," in her honor. In the DC area, Keith Young is one such maker (and the one I'm going to ask about those strings I mentioned).

Ferrara has one of these harps, you know. I think it's a Keith Young version.

We'll see if I can get around to actually fixing the harp. I do have a few other repair jobs (not including household repairs) that I need to get to. I'm only a short machine bolt away from fixing a nice old banjo for another Mudcatter, and I'm hoping to go looking for the bolt soon (I have to match the thread on the banjo's tailpiece holder, to replace the threaded screw that's now there). We'll see if I can get around to it this weekend. There's always something coming up, you know?

Nice article about Margaret, though. She deserves every bit of good publicity she gets.

Bob Clayton

28 Dec 01 - 04:59 PM (#617765)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: GUEST,Nancy-Jean

When I spoke to Margaret last night, she still hadn't seen the article. She and John and the piled-high van were due to leave for Arizona this morning. I emailed her the link, but chances are she had other things on her mind than checking for messages.

Margaret proved to be such a fascinating subject that when the photographer visited her in Marlboro, Vermont, he shot pictures from 9am until 5pm. The two photographs in Smithsonian are absolute gems. The one of Margaret with the instruments hanging on the wall behind her almost looks like an oil painting of a "high toned" folksinger lady!

28 Dec 01 - 05:28 PM (#617774)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Jerry Rasmussen

The first time I heard Margaret was at a concert in Rhode Island presented by Howard Glasser. I was immediately taken by how warm and sincerely encouraging she was. She invited me and my then-wife to come up to Marlboro, and we made several visits up there. When I saw her harp, I decided to make one for my then-wife (beats ex-wife.) I did it from memory, so when I brought it up the next time we went to visit, it was interesting to see how close it was, and yet how it differed. I was blessed with ignorance then (and still am.) Sometimes it takes ignorance to do something you'd never attempt if you "knew better." I don't have John's technical knowledge so I just made it the way it seemed like I should. Didn't know how to string it, so I just did it by feel, and tuned 'er up. Played fine..

Most importatnly, Margaret became a true friend, and I treasure the times that I spent with her, John and her family. John and I walked the fields together, watching for birds and comparing notes (I had taught bird classes at the Museum where I worked, and stepped out into the cold Vermont night to look at the sky. John and I also shared a fascination with astronomy.

Last fall, I had the great pleasure of sharing the stage with Margaret at a Eisteddfod revival in honor of Howard's retirement. Everything came full circle. My son, who was less than a year old the first time I heard Margaret is 32 now. Margaret is as charming, sweet and unassuming now as she was the first time that I heard her.

Let's hope that Margaret is reading all of these postings!

Congratulations, Margaret! Sometimes the good girls win.


28 Dec 01 - 06:56 PM (#617816)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)

Lady Margaret- If you're reading this, congratulations on that fine article...may Everything Good come to you in this new year! Love, Jean

28 Dec 01 - 11:07 PM (#617917)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Sorcha

Is there any possiblity of a link to a photo of a "MacArthur harp"? I would love to see one, or a photo of Margaret. I had never heard of the lady before this.

28 Dec 01 - 11:53 PM (#617934)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article

Here's Margaret and her harp-zither.


29 Dec 01 - 12:00 AM (#617938)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Sorcha

Ohhhhh, thank you so much, Nomad!! Wow, what a Lady. I'm even more impressed now.

29 Dec 01 - 02:01 AM (#617964)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: JedMarum

great article. thanks for passing it on!

29 Dec 01 - 03:30 PM (#618194)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: George Seto -

HEre are a couple of older threads about her and her harps.

Margaret MacArthur's Newest CD
MacArthur Harps

It's interesting to note that in the space of approximately 2 years, we had 35,000 messages posted to the Mudcat Forum.

29 Dec 01 - 03:39 PM (#618198)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: George Seto -

Note, October of 1996 was the first message, and we got to 17000 near the middle of January in 2000.

29 Dec 01 - 06:19 PM (#618272)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: GUEST,Wavestar

I met Margaret when she did a workshop in my school (in Vermont) about 12 years ago. She was great to work with, getting even the most uninterested kids interested in town history (of which we have a lot, all very interesting), folk music, etc. She'd certainly done her research beforehand, and was a very sweet and kind lady. I was so pleased to see the article in the Smithsonian a few days ago.


30 Dec 01 - 08:25 AM (#618469)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: GUEST,Nancy-Jean


30 Dec 01 - 10:45 AM (#618499)
Subject: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Abby Sale

There's a lovely article about Margaret MacArthur in the Smithsonian Magazine for January (p99) I subscribe to it, of course, but the article is temporarily available at Margaret MacM

Margaret is one of the finest humans and superbest ballad singers I've ever come across. All my years I concentrated on the Scottish muckle ballad, bemoaning that there was so little great balladry in the US. Then she produced an impressive (& growing) repertoire of fine-sung, singable ballads from New England. They were there all along. I just didn't know about them until a couple of years ago.

Thank goodness, too. Last week I got to sing her great Vermont version of "King John and the Bishop" (Child #45) to celebrate bad King John's birthday (b12/24/1167). The story represented in the song seems to trace back to Coptic literature of maybe 650 ce. In the song John's a good guy, not Bad King as most elsewhere. (CD _Ballads Twisted_ - available from Camsco & also available is a bunch of tapes directly from her.)

Now that's a whole bunch of superlatives for me. But I mean it just the mostest.

I moved this message here from another thread on the same topic.
-Joe Offer-

30 Dec 01 - 09:38 PM (#618790)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Susan A-R

Nice article. We had a great treat when we held our first Julios song session two weeks ago, and she drove up from Marlboro to join us. She did several gems which I'd never heard before. What a knack for finding and learning and sharing those wonderful songs. We'll miss her over the winter, but look forward to hearing her this summer (she'll be at Old Songs and at Champlain Festival, I gather.)

31 Dec 01 - 11:19 AM (#619012)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: lamarca

I'm so glad Margaret is getting more recognition after all her years of work preserving and presenting the songs and traditions of Vermont! I hope you get a chance to read this thread, too, Margaret.

One of my favorite memories is a time at the spring FOTM getaway sponsored by DeanC and Carly at Prince William Forest park in Virginia. We were in the rustic dining hall, gathered around for a late night song swap. Margaret started to sing a wonderful ballad, but people started to get distracted, looking at the ceiling, instead of listening - not because the song wasn't entrancing, but because a family of flying squirrels had emerged and started running across the exposed beams above our heads! Probably the only time Margaret's been upstaged by squirrels...

31 Dec 01 - 06:30 PM (#619212)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: GUEST,NH Dave

Thanks, NOMAD. I knew both Margaret and John when I attended Marlboro College MANY years ago. At the time, John was teaching science and math, making home brew - he HAD to - Marlboro paid so poorly that he couldn't afford to offer hospitality with store bought so he learned how to brew better than he could buy, and setting a bunch of children. We used to joke that he was aiming for a soccer team until Megan came along and decided to stop with a basketball team instead.

I still see Margaret at various folk venues and John on alumni weekends at the school.


06 Sep 11 - 10:35 PM (#3219318)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Desert Dancer

Having some Vermont connections, I've been tracking the news online about the Hurricane Irene damage, and I spotted this: I don't know why, but the Burlington Free Press currently has up on their website an article from an interview with Margaret MacArthur (who died in 2006 - Mudcat Obit thread). There are a couple of audio links. (And a lovely picture.) There's no indication of when the interview actually took place.

Margaret MacArthur : 'I'd never heard any New England music and I just knew I wasn't gonna like it'

As Margaret MacArthur notes in the interview excerpt below, prior to moving to Vermont from Chicago she had no knowledge of the region's musical traditions. In an effort to learn something about them she purchased two books, one of which was Edith Sturgis's 1919 work, "Songs from the Hills of Vermont." Here Margaret explains how she learned more of the story behind "Songs from the Hills of Vermont."

Margaret MacArthur: When I found out we were moving to Vermont I was not happy because the only thing I knew about New England was all the horrid University of Chicago kids from Boston that I didn't have anything in common with. And I'd never heard any New England music and I just knew I wasn't gonna like it. But I did buy these two books: "Songs from the Hills of Vermont " and Flanders' "Country Songs of Vermont." So, and I don't know what year it was. It was probably around 1960 that I was talking about the "Songs from the Hills of Vermont" because I guess I'd been learning all the songs in it, and there are 13 songs in it. And in the preface she says that she'd gotten some 70 songs from this man, from James Atwood and from the Atwood family. And I sort of said to Steven Green, "I sure would like to find the rest of these songs, but I don't know where the Hills of Vermont are." And he said, "Well, that's Dover." Which is right there, where I sang three days ago. And I said, "No kidding?" And he knew Edith Sturgis' daughter, Susan Goodale, who was married to a doctor in Cambridge and he said, "Why don't you call her up and see if you can find them?" So I did. I think he gave me her phone number in Cambridge, 'cause he lived next door to them in Dover. And she was so nice. She said, "Well, we're coming up Labor Day weekend. Why don't you come over and we'll look in mother's desk." And we opened her mother's desk and there were all these typed words to these songs, the rest of these songs. And there were six little pieces of music, paper with staffs on them, that had tunes for six of them. And the rest of them, no tunes. But I was delighted. So I learned those six tunes.

Sturgis, Edith Sturgis, got interested in James Atwood because he was a Mason and they'd owned this mansion since before the Civil War. And they came back, I suppose, after the turn of the century and hired a mason to restore the house. It all needed plastered and everything. And new chimneys. And he sang while he was working and he sang these ancient, ancient ballads. And she was an educated woman and realized that this was important, so she set about collecting. And they hired a man named Robert Hughes to come and write down the music, because it was before any tape recorders. So he was the transcriber. And these little pieces that I found were his transcription.

In this selection, Margaret MacArthur describes her search for the descendants of James Atwood. The reel-to-reel tape recordings Margaret made of James's son, Fred, are now in the collection of the Vermont Folklife Center Archive.

Margaret MacArthur: And I kept thinking there were still many, many songs that didn't have their tunes. And I asked the Town Clerk if she knew if he (James Atwood) had any descendents, and he had two sons and a daughter. And she said, "the one who would sing would be Fred, and he's in Connecticut." So I wrote to him. I got his address and wrote to him, and I sent him all the list of all these songs that I had the words to, and he sent back, checking off most of them. And said that once a year he went to Brattleboro and his brother, Clarence, came from Northern Vermont and they met in Brattleboro for the day and then they went back on the bus to their homes. And if I would come and meet him and bring him out to Dover to the burial plot where his parents were buried, he'd sing these songs for me. So I invited him. And I didn't have a phone and he didn't have a phone, so this was all by letter. And he described what he looked like. He was tall and skinny and would have on a gray hat and he'd meet me at the corner where Brooks' Hotel is at four o'clock or something like that on such and such a date. I still have his letter. And I did go down and there he was. And quite deaf. In his 80s.

Jane Beck: I'll be darned.

Margaret: Yeah.

Jane: Well, were you able to get some of the tunes?

Margaret: Yeah! Yeah. I have all those on tape.

Jane: Marvelous!

Margaret: On Wollensak. Wollensak tape. Yeah. No, I have—

Jane: What a wonderful collection!

Margaret: Yeah, it is. There are dozens and dozens and dozens. Not all of them in what I regard as important songs, but very important to know a person's repertoire.

Jane: Absolutely! And a Vermont repertoire.

Margaret: Mhm. And very British oriented. Very few local songs. He sang a song of Jim Fiske, who was a boy who was born in Pownal and then was a peddler out of Brattleboro, back and forth to Albany, before he became the great railroad baron. So that's — those things became very important in my life. Now it's sort of receded into the past, but at the time this was extremely important to me. And then when I was asked to make another record for Living Folk, this very record ("On the Mountains High"), in 1970's, I was very anxious to put some of the, to bring some of that forward, some of the Atwood stuff forward.


That's it.

~ Becky in Long Beach

06 Sep 11 - 10:41 PM (#3219319)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: maeve

Thank you, Becky. Margaret has been an important influence on my music.

06 Sep 11 - 10:49 PM (#3219320)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Desert Dancer

Oops, ended up with some italics when I meant to have boldface, but never mind, I guess!

I've sent a note to the Burlington Free Press to ask what's up and see if we can get the whole story.

~ Becky in Long Beach

07 Sep 11 - 10:10 AM (#3219500)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Amos

Margaret was a wonderful influence, and contributed to the first Mudcat CD collection.

I am glad she is being recalled.


26 May 20 - 05:07 PM (#4055373)
Subject: RE: Margaret MacArthur article
From: Desert Dancer

Folksong Collector and Singer Margaret MacArthur - a nice new article with good links from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center blog, Folklife Today. Via the AFL on Facebook.

~ Becky in Talent, OR